Dear Bolivia blog readers
After a long and arduous journey, we arrived at our hotel in La Paz at 4.30 a.m. on Sunday morning. As we were all really tired and the next day’s program started at midday already, we went straight to bed.
On Sunday, we met the whole group for lunch. Roland Gröbli and José Balmer welcomed us and gave us a rundown of the program for the day. In order to acclimatize us with our new surroundings, we made a small tour of the city on the first day. This kind of acclimatization day was extremely important for us, as La Paz is the highest administrative capital in the world, located at more than 3’500 m above sea level, as mentioned previously.
Riding the Teleferico, the cable car network in La Paz, it took us less than 20 minutes to reach the city center and we were able to enjoy great views of the city thanks to the great weather. The cable car network in La Paz currently comprises seven cable car lines and will be the world’s largest urban cable car network once it will be completed. It was really impressive – also the apprentices thought so.
After arriving at the city center, José took us on a tour of the places of interest around the city. From our starting point on the Paseo el Prado, the main street in the city center, we first visited the new government building of President Evo Morales and then made our way to Plaza Murillo, the city’s main square. On our way up, we noticed for the first time how hard it was to walk at this altitude. Walking up hills and chatting at the same time is nowhere near as easy here as it is in Switzerland. José had warned us about the altitude many times and therefore brought enough Sorojchi (medication against altitude sickness) with him on the tour.
After walking past various brightly painted walls and the Iglesia San Francisco (the church of Saint Francis of Assisi), we reached the Mercado de Brujas, the famous Witches’ Market of La Paz. It quickly became clear that this market would be our highlight of the day. Whatever problem you might have, this market offers a solution – whether it is in the form of talismans, powders, soap, sugar icing or llama fetuses. Some of us tried chewing coca leaves for the first time here, which is a tip for combating altitude sickness.
Before making our way back to the hotel, some of the group went shopping and bought souvenirs for family and friends, while others were more interested in trying out the special street food available in La Paz. This was an excellent chance for us to put the Spanish we had learned to the test and get to know some locals.
Once we were back in the hotel, we met Richard Haep, the Director of Caritas Switzerland in Bolivia. He gave us a short summary of the great work that the organization does in Bolivia and provided us with insights into the situation faced by the country’s inhabitants. He also told us about the conditions in the villages that we were about to visit the next day. Afterwards, we came together as a group to go through tomorrow’s detailed schedule. During dinner, we discussed our first impressions of Bolivia. Many of us actually had a different image of La Paz in their minds. All in all, however, we are all extremely positive after our first day. For example, Sreilak and Jasmina were impressed at how open-minded and friendly the Bolivians are. “They were always smiling and welcomed us with open arms,” recounted Sreilak.
As the program for the next day was to start already at 6 a.m., we called it a night directly after dinner and were soon asleep.